How to Build a Better Body Image
— In a recent study published in the journal Psychology of Women Quarterly, 93 percent of college-age women admitted they fall into the fat-talk trap — picking apart their own body flaws among friends, possibly to elicit those “no, you look great!” responses.
But bashing their belly bloat isn’t the only harmful thing that women routinely say aloud. From “I’m soooo stressed out” to “Yikes, I’m sorry about that,” many seemingly harmless everyday phrases are actually more loaded than you think — and they have the power to whittle down your self-confidence and raise your levels of anxiety and depression, says Shoshana Bennett, PhD, a Sonoma, Calif-based psychologist.
Chances are you may not even realize you’re making such statements, or that they’re self-deprecating, Dr. Bennett says. “You should talk to yourself as you would to a very close friend. Most of us wouldn’t dream of uttering to someone we adore the little putdowns we say to ourselves.”
Everyday Health asked experts to share the very worst kinds of things women say — and how to spin that toxic vocab into positive thinking.
1. “Look at my arm jiggle.”
The situation: Over a glass of pinot with your BFFs, girl talk suddenly turns into a competition of who hates their body more.
Why it’s unhealthy: Pointing out and focusing on the alleged jiggle, whether to friends or yourself, is harmful to your body image and self-esteem. Even if your intent is to seek an image-boosting compliment, it can backfire, prompting you to agonize even more over your body flaws and making you feel worse.
Next time, say: “Did I tell you about the cool project I’m managing at work?” or “I love your new haircut!” The point here is to spend time with your friends celebrating each other’s successes instead of commiserating over flaws.2. “You always…” or “You never…”
The situation: Your husband leaves his dirty dinner dish in the sink. Again. And again.
Why it’s unhealthy: These unproductive taunts have the potential to snowball out of control, so you suddenly find yourself fighting and screaming about big issues like money or parenting instead of the pile of plates, explains Marianne Gillow, PhD, a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City.
Next time, say: “I have a problem with…” Describe the bothersome behavior in a precise way, which allows you to get to the nuance of the fight, and settle it quickly. “If you’re going to fight with a loved one, it’s best to keep it as specific as possible,” Gillow says.3. “I’m such a pig.”
The situation: You feel guilty about inhaling an entire bag of pretzel M&Ms, so you confess to your co-worker about your diet slip-up.
Why it’s unhealthy: This self-judgmental jab picks apart your self-esteem, making you more likely to binge further, creating a vicious cycle. In many cases, you’re actually saying it in hopes of getting reassurance from your friends that you are not, in fact, a pig, which is equally as dangerous. “If you’re depending on someone else to tell you how to feel, you’re not taking responsibility for your own confidence and happiness,” says Bennett.
Next time, say: “That was so yummy.” Simply enjoy the indulgence and vow to eat something healthy at your next meal or snack. Or, if you’re eating to the point of discomfort, be aware of your actions. “Make a mental note so you can choose differently next time,” says Bennett. If you turned to the vending machine after a particularly stressful meeting, brainstorm a smarter solution for next time, like venting to your office best friend or taking a mind-clearing walk.4. “I’m soooo sorry.”
The situation: You brush up against someone in the elevator. Or ask a question in a big meeting. Or fumble around in your wallet and take too long to pay the cashier at the coffee shop.
Why it’s unhealthy: “Over-apologizing for minor, unnecessary things can do a number on your self-worth because you’re basically saying, ‘I’m not important,’” Bennett says.
Next time, say: Nothing at all. Bite your tongue and reserve those earnest apologies for acts that truly deserve them.5. “Ugh, I’m beyond stressed.”
The situation: You stare at the 72 unread emails in your inbox or your three-page-and-growing to-do list and throw up your hands in despair.
Why it’s unhealthy: With four small words, you imply incompetence. “A lot of times we speak in terms of ‘all or nothing,’ and those statements lead nowhere but down,” says Bennett. Take a step back and have another look at the situation. You’ll probably realize that you’re not falling apart, but you could just use some help prioritizing or delegating. You’re only human, and you can pretty much only do one thing at a time.
Next time, say: “I’m feeling challenged right now.” This puts you in a solution-seeking mindset and you can figure out what to do to move forward.6. “I can’t afford this.”
The situation: You ogle a gorgeous pair of strappy sandals in your favorite department store (and put them right back down after seeing the price tag). Or you go into sticker shock when the travel agent tallies the cost of the Caribbean cruise you were thinking of booking for your anniversary.
Why it’s unhealthy: When you use the word “can’t,” you’re acting as if you’re not in control of your own situation, and so you limit your possibilities. “Most likely, with some creativity, you could find a way to buy those shoes or take that trip,” says Bennett.
Next time, say: “I choose not to spend money on that right now.” This empowers you with the option of spending money later and brainstorming about how to budget for it.For more visit the Everyday Health Emotional Health Center.